In early October it was time to take down the “In the periphery” exhibition. The weather had changed and aged the pieces in interesting ways. The wax had gotten sunburnt, some of the jars was filled with water, little algae and rust was climbing up my grandmother’s mazarines, only her hat acted as if nothing had happened while the moss grew around it.
They live in the window of my studio for now.
As mentioned in the previous post, I used some of my grandmother’s everyday objects as starting points for my contribution to artist-group FIUYMI’s exhibition “In the Periphery” this summer (up until 29th of September) in Koster’s sculpture park in the (kind of) south of Sweden (but very close to Norway).
I did this to talk about the kind of periphery dementia is.
When my grandmother started to disappear into a state of ambiguity and mixed reality it was very painful to watch this highly capable and strong person starting to forget how to take care of herself. I lost the possibility of having long, meaningful conversations with her, since the timeline was constantly reset and cut off, and started to become a stranger to one of the most important people in my life. But even then, mixed in with the sadness, was amazement. At how strange our brains are and how creative they are, constantly. She had entered a world of dream logic. To her all the people she had ever met and all the places she had ever been were in reach all the time. Her mother, dead since at least 20 years, could come visit, and Spain, her favourite country, was sometimes on the second floor of her house. I especially remember a conversation I had with her the last Christmas we celebrated together. She both knew and didn’t know who I was. In her mind she was there to interview us about what we thought about the big news that we, as a family restaurant (something we are very much not), had gotten the job to make the Nobel-prize ceremony dinner. She asked many questions about this, but was at the same time a bit confused every time she remembered that she was part of the family. She also kept coming back to the question of when someone would come pick her up. At first I corrected her every time, explaining that she was going to stay with us and celebrate Christmas, but it felt so sad to have to tell her she was wrong all the time (that can’t be fun to hear over and over even if you forget it two minutes later) so I stopped, and followed her lead instead, to see where we would end up. We ended up in quite a few places actually: The North Pole, Spain (always on her mind), together with her dancing uncles many years ago, and back again at the family restaurant, to mention a few. It was not the kind of conversation we used to have when I was younger, and that I still miss, but we kind of had an adventure and travelled in time while the Nobel-prize dinner was being made in the kitchen, and I think we where both happy for a while.
Off course this is not “the solution to dementia” and off course it doesn’t always work to just go on an adventure instead of handling the problems in front of you. But I am really glad I have memories like this together with her.
Back to the exhibition. Here are the finished pieces, placed in the sculpture park.
“Grandmother bakes (and forgets to stop)” 104 concrete mazarins (her speciality). In the background the other two pieces.
“Grandmother sorts in strange ways” 18 jars of wax keys that no longer open anything.
“This hat was given to me by my daughter’s mom” Silicone cast of one of her hats, and direct quote.
Thank you everyone who came to the opening and told me about your own experiences of dementia! A hug for each of you.
I have been four people in this project. The explorer, the introvert, the organizer and the corpus maker.
The explorer is the one traveling the ocean, looking at the world with curiosity and deciding to own it. Ruthless science and colonialism: to do because we can, or to do to find out if it can be done.
One of the most common questions I got during the exam exhibition was what material the branch is made of. When I answered “raw hide… skin”, the asker’s look changed and they just had to ask “human skin?”. I wonder how we can be explorers without being colonizers.
“The travelable distance”
The introvert is the one remembering that we might sleep half a meter away from another person, but a wall of concrete make us exist in different worlds. We are only aware of the neighbours upstairs when they are disturbing us, we co-exist at a distance and agree to pretend that someone else will save the world.
“The apartment next to theirs” (left) and “If they weren’t made to be empty” (right)
The organiser is the one documenting and collecting. Sorting the world and combining the fragments into our preferred version of reality. Ideally I would like my work to meet an audience slowly and quietly, like the way you find lost things in the attic and you wonder who they used to belong to.
“Our preferred version of reality”
The corpus maker is the one placing the borders around pieces of emptiness, the definer of inside and outside. Possibly even the creator of inside and outside, since neither of them can exist without the meeting place that is the border.
“The only other piece of land”
Exam presentation set up.
Exam exhibition with cast concrete floor and 4 of 7 pieces.
Done. Next project.
If I discard the inside but keep the surface, is the object still there?
While removing the dried skin tubes from the branch I’m hoping they will hold together on their own.
(Day 10: The empty pieces seems to hold their connections.)
What is the difference between the inside and the outside?
Stitch by stitch I’m enclosing a positive impression of a branch made of air, keeping it separated from the surrounding air which ends up having a negative branch shaped hole in it.
(Day 10: About a third done)
Is the function of the boundary to uphold the division between inside and outside? What if the boundary lets the inside out or the outside in?
Is that too simple?
In the book “A field guide to getting lost” I found the concept of “shul”. This word usually means a jewish place or context of worship, but it can also mean a mark left in the world. The author Rebecca Solnit describes it like this: “…shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that was once there.”
(Day 11: The tips are the hardest to get off without breaking the branch.)
I’ve made a container that remembers its content but the content is gone. You could say that this container knows the shape of a branch because it was constructed around one, in the same way that new knowledge is built like bricks on top of the bricks of old knowledge.
(Day 13: Almost all the pieces done now!)
By making a hollow shell I start to understand that the border could be the only place where the inside and the outside can meet.
Is that too obvious?
Well, new knowledge to me: I draw unnecessary lines. I get stuck inside a defined tradition. Like I’m missing a membership card to the outside. Or maybe a get-out-of-jail-free-card. These boundaries are still too easy to see for me. I need to learn about doors. Or permeable materials.
I do understand the point of knowing your history though. Again: all new knowledge needs a foundation of old knowledge to build on. We continue on someone else’s conversations and add our own parts without them knowing. Maybe my conversation will be someone else’s starting point another time.
Is that too pretentious?
The artist Theaster Gates talks about how a “nothing-material” like clay or an abandoned building can be turned into a something, like a pot a or meeting place for art and people, but also how the materials carry memories and tell a story if you let them.
(Day15: Done and installed at Åsbacken, Västerljung for the Open Art days.)
In the search for clues of where my process could be leading me, I need to remember to take a step back and see what I’ve actually done. What is there in front of me. What the materials have turned into and what story they tell me.
I’m confused, possibly in a good way. Possibly I’m asking too many questions. Possibly I’m wrongly trying to figure out the “right way” of doing things.
Is that too critical?
Thank you to everyone who came and had interesting conversations with me during the exhibition days! To see someone tear up over something I created makes all the work worth it! 🙂